Portmadoc Harbour

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This article covers the Harbour as a location and port, shipping calling at Portmadoc is covered in Portmadoc Maritime.
Portmadoc Harbour
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Ships in the harbour
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Portmadoc Harbour is the name by which the port facilities in Portmadoc are generally known. The harbour lies at the lower end of the Festiniog Railway and was once covered in extensive sidings serving the slate wharves.

Origin of the Location[edit]

Before Porthmadog existed slates quarried at Blaenau Ffestiniog were carried by small sailing vessels from quays on the Afon Dwyrwd to an anchorage close to Ynys Cyngar near the bar at the mouth of the Glasyn where they were transhipped into larger sailing vessels for onward carriage.[1] A picture of one of the Dwyryd quays is here. William Alexander Madocks had power under his 1807 Act of Parliament to build a pier and a quay at Ynys Cyngar but when he saw the better site for quays developing at Porthmadog he changed his plans and he built them there, the first ones opening in 1824 following his 1821 Act of Parliament. The good site for the port developed when Madocks placed the sluice gates of The Cob between the island of the hillock called Ynys Towyn (just North of Harbour Station) and the North bank of the Traeth Mawr.[2] The gates were on the original version of Britannia Bridge built in about 1810. Once The Cob was completed and the gap closed this caused the diversion of the main flow of the Afon Glaslyn and scoured a deep channel. Porthmadog was a much better place for the quays than Ynys Cyngar because the shelter is much superior and the water was probably deeper because of the way the sluices constricted the width of the river.[3] For a discussion of past and future changes in the shore line and the channel of the Glaslyn see the article by Fazakerley.[4]

The First Quays[edit]

The first harbour works were built by Griffith Griffiths from Merioneth and his four sons who laboured tirelessly to complete them.[5] When the quays were first built there there can have been need for little more than the quay wall to be constructed since the ballast in incoming slate carriers would soon have provided the material to build up the level yards behind them.[6] Indeed the same material was probably used to create the slightly raised area on which seaward end of Porthmadog town was built. The first Harbour Master was Daniel Morris and he recorded the first dues on vessels using the new harbour in the spring of 1825.[7] Cei Ballast (Ballast Bank) was begun in 1866.

Ship building at Porthmadog began almost as soon as the first quay was built commencing in 1825. Shipbuilders moved from surrounding places such as Penrhyndeudraeth and Borth y Gest to beaches such as that by Harbour Station.

The Quays Extended[edit]

In 1864, new loading berths for slate were extended down the west bank of the river for almost half a mile from the town. Narrow gauge sidings to serve these quays were laid in 1865.[8] The lines were laid out on a grid with 90 degree intersections where there were wagon turntables. Lines ran along the very edge of the quays in the ideal position for loading slate. Wagons were moved on the quays by hand. Once Cei Ballast was operating incoming ships without cargo would generally berth first at ballast bank to dispose of that and then be moved to the quay where they were due to load slates.

There was a complaint in 1860 to the Harbour Department of the Admiralty by Ships' Masters about facilities at the port. They listed shortcomings of lack of berths for ships, high charges, shortage of mooring buoys, the channel undredged, lack of paths and landing places for the outer port and the incorrect positioning of several navigation buoys. The Harbour Master replied that they planned to convert the sluice bridge (Britannia Bridge) into a lifting bridge so that there would be berths for ships in the inner harbour. (This was never done.)

Other Critical Institutions[edit]

Other important developments were the formation of a Ship Insurance Society (later there were more than one), a Tugboat Company and a Steamship Company that ran a regular weekly service to Pwllheli and Liverpool. The tugs were crucial for they allowed the sailing ships to enter and leave port quickly through the constricted river and its narrow mouth and the shallow bar even if the wind was absent or against them. The Customs House in Britannia Terrace is a reminder that with foreign going ships Her Majesty's Customs and Excise had their office in a position from which they could observe the arrival of vessels. There were also sail lofts, a ropewalk and of course ironworks and foundries supplied metalwork and gear for the wooden ships built. There was a school of navigation in Porthmadog and at Borth y Gest the houses in which the pilots lived and could see incoming ships in need of them are still known as "pilot houses".

Porthmadog became a much more all round maritime economy than other local slate ports such as Deganwy, Port Dinorwic, Port Penrhyn or even Caernarfon.

The port reached its zenith in about 1880 after which more slate left the area by standard gauge railways. The FR records show that in 1873, 116,576 tons left by sea and 19,087 tons by rail via Porthmadog and 8,426 tons by rail through Minffordd. This was the highest year for total shipments by all means and included the most ever sent by sea. In addition to slate from the FR the port also served the Croesor Tramway and the Gorseddau Tramway.

Porthmadog Harbour is owned by Gwynedd Council. For information about the harbour today see [1]

Ships in the harbour. A modern visitor, 2008
Ships in the harbour. A modern visitor, 2008


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 1 - History and Route. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-8536-1167-X. OCLC 2074549. p17
  2. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 1 - History and Route. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-8536-1167-X. OCLC 2074549. p16
  3. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 1 - History and Route. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-8536-1167-X. OCLC 2074549. p16
  4. ^ "The Glaslyn Estuary Then & Now", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 248, page(s): 627-631
  5. ^ Porthmadog Ships, Hughes E and Eames A,(1975) Porthmadog Ships, Gwynedd Archive Services, p 13.
  6. ^ Temple M. Ll., (2020) Personal observation.
  7. ^ Porthmadog Ships, Hughes E and Eames A,(1975) Porthmadog Ships, Gwynedd Archive Services, p 13.
  8. ^ Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 1 - History and Route. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-8536-1167-X. OCLC 2074549. pp 52 - 55.